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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May 21 Updates in the Aftermath of the Tornado in Oklahoma

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After the tornado struck, a resident in Moore captured scenes of the devastation with a cellphone moments after emerging from his basement.

The Lede is following reports from witnesses and our correspondents in Moore, Okla., a southern suburb of Oklahoma City, where dozens of people were killed and more than 200 were injured on Monday after a powerful tornado tore through the city.

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11:28 P.M. Amid Tragedy, Reunions and Relief

When the winds died down and the debris settled following Monday's tornado in Oklahoma, residents began scrambling to find loved ones amid the rubble of homes and businesses and at least two schools. For some, that search ended in searing grief. As my colleagues Manny Fernandez and Jack Healy report, at least 24 people were killed, nine of them children. For many others, like Trenda Purcell, who was shown on video reuniting with her son, Kamden, tear-filled reunions and relief awaited.

Live updates of the recovery effort in Oklahoma will continue on Wednesday morning.

- Michael Schwirtz

6:03 P.M. Scenes of Destruction From Tornado's Path Through Moore

As our colleague John Eligon reports from Moore, Okla., residents struggled to make sense of the devastation wrought upon their community by Monday's tornado, while officials said they hoped to finish their search for survivors by nightfall on Tuesday.

The National Weather Service said on Tuesday that the storm was an EF5 tornado, the most powerful and destructive category. The tornado left a path of destruction through the town of Moore, leveling entire neighborhoods and killing dozens of people, although officials cautioned that it was too early to know the exact number of the dead.

As residents emerged from storm shelters to a community transformed, many turned to camera phones and social media to document the devastation they witnessed and share it with the world. Journalists covering the tornado also shared photographs of what they saw in Moore on social media.

Mike Jenkins, a television producer at The Weather Channel, posted a photograph to Twitter that showed the kitchen of a damaged home. The roof had been ripped off the structure, but a chandelier hanging in the kitchen appeared intact. Chairs were undisturbed around the kitchen table, and a potted plant sat in its center.

Mark Robinson, a self-described storm chaser, posted several photographs to Twitter. This one claims to show a ruined shopping center in Moore.

Priscilla Luong, a reporter for Fox 25 in Oklahoma City, posted a photograph to Twitter that showed brightly colored, child-size furniture outside a devastated day care center in Moore.

Ms. Luong also posted a photograph that showed a 6-year-old boy helping his teacher clean up the rubble of their day care center.

Michael Konopasek, a reporter for the local CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City, posted a photograph to Twitter of a ruined building and an overturned car near where his camera crew was filming on Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Konopasek also posted a photograph of a tornado shelter built after another devastating EF5 tornado tore through Moore in May 1999. He reported that many residents hiding in shelters similar to this one survived Monday's storm.

5:40 P.M. ‘Man's Best Friend to the End,' says Okla. Sheriff

At 7:20 p.m. on Monday, the Oklahoma County Sheriff's office posted this photo on its Twitter account of a little black dog with white markings that survived the devastating tornado. It was retweeted more than 1,900 times.

Today, the sheriff's staff shared on Facebook the story behind finding the dog.

He was found standing by his owner, who was killed during the storm.

May 20, 2013 we posted this picture of a dog on our Twitter account “scared, but this little pup survived.” Today we found out the story behind the picture. The dog was standing guard over a deceased individual, possibly its owner, in Moore following the tornado there. The dog was taken to a shelter and the deputy who found the pup, if possible, plans on adopting the dog. Man's best friend to the end.

5:01 P.M. Google Crisis Response Map for Moore

Google's Crisis Response team published a map with resources and information for residents of Moore and surrounding communities in the aftermath of the tornado.

4:34 P.M. National Weather Service: Moore Tornado Was an EF5

The National Weather Service said on Tuesday that the tornado that cut a path of destruction through Moore, Okla., and surrounding communities on Monday afternoon was an EF5, the most powerful category of tornado.

National Weather Service researchers in Norman, Okla., close to the epicenter of Monday's destruction, said that they had found at least one area of EF5-level damage, at Briarwood Elementary School, according to a report on the Weather Channel.

Tulsa World reported on Tuesday that wind speeds during the tornado reached a maximum gust of 200 to 210 miles per hour, at the low end of the EF5 scale. It was 1.3 miles wide and 17 miles long. Studies on Monday had indicated wind speeds of around 190 miles per hour, leading meteorologists to classify the storm initially as a weaker EF4.

4:24 P.M. Moore Medical Center Destroyed During Storm

The tornado took with it one of the region's medical centers, forcing patients who had sought refuge from the swirling storm to evacuate to other hospitals.

The storm cut what appeared to be a direct path through Moore Medical Center, a small emergency services hospital. The force of the winds gutted and nearly flattened the building, stripping away its second floor.

Emergency crews that arrived at the hospital in the hours after the storm found an eerie scene: a once-vibrant hospital unrecognizable, its alarms blaring in the background and its parking lot strewn with rubble, debris and piles of crumpled cars, The Oklahoman reports.

About 30 patients were at the hospital in the hours before the tornado struck. Those patients and many hospital staff were evacuated to two sister medical centers in the Norman Regional Health System, sparing anyone from injury. But hospital workers said the damage done was far beyond what they had anticipated.

“It was very traumatic for those people that were there; the hospital did take a direct hit,” said Kelly Wells, a spokeswoman for Norman Regional Health System, which runs Moore Medical Center, in an interview. “We did have warning that there was a risk for these types of storms. But it popped up rather quickly. It was really fast and massive and destructive.”

Some of the patients at Moore were being treated for minor storm-related injuries. Others were there for routine procedures like labor and delivery. Ms. Wells said that more than 100 tornado victims had been taken to the two other hospitals in the health system, Norman Regional and HealthPlex, for things like broken bones, lacerations and internal injuries.

On its Web site, the health system noted that it was trying to find the parents of one of its patients, a 9-year-old girl, Kaileigh Hawkins, who was at her elementary school when the tornado struck. “She is doing O.K., but her parents are not with her,” it said.

At Norman Regional Hospital, about 35 of the patients were what the hospital called “walking wounded.” The health system was trying to divert much of the staff that evacuated Moore Medical Center to the other hospitals, but some were dealing with personal losses.

“We had a lot of staff whose homes were impacted by the storm,” Ms. Wells said. “But those who are able to are being asked to come to the other campuses to help where they can.”

The hospitals saw a barrage of patients in the hours after the storm, which has now slowed down tremendously, Ms. Wells said. Administrators are now trying to figure out their next steps as crews sift through the ruins of Moore Medical Center.

“The pictures that they're sending back are just incredible and devastating,” she said. “We drill for these types of situations. But you're never totally prepared.”

- Anahad O'Connor

3:30 P.M. Fire Chief Promises Searches of All Damaged Property

Gary Bird, the Moore fire chief, said on Tuesday that search and rescue crews would continue to look for survivors in damaged buildings with the goal of getting to them all for a second time by nightfall.

“We will go through every damaged piece of property in this city,” he said.

Mr. Bird said that no new survivors had been found since Monday night.

Search and rescue crews from around the state and region have arrived to assist the more than 200 emergency responders who had been working since the tornado touched down to find survivors.

Among those who arrived on the scene to assist were members of the National Guard Airmen from the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron. Second Lt. Gabriel Bird explained how thermal imaging technology and other tools are used to try to locate victims:

The state medical examiner's office lowered the official death toll from the storm to 24 victims, after as many as 91 people were initially reported killed.

It is unclear how many people are still missing, city officials said.

2:18 P.M. State Emergency Official: No Safe Rooms at Schools Hit

Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma's top emergency management official, said at a televised news conference that the two elementary schools in the direct path of the storm did not have safe rooms for students and teachers to take shelter. Nor did the schools have basements.

He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had provided funds for safe rooms for more than 100 schools in the state, but Plaza Towers Elementary School and Briarwood Elementary School were not among them.

All students have been accounted for at Briarwood. However, rescue crews continued to sift through the rubble of Plaza Towers on Tuesday in the hope of finding more survivors. At least seven children at that school were killed.

Mr. Ashwood described safe rooms as a “mitigating measure. It's not absolute.” However, he acknowledged that additional safety measures may have provided better protection for the children killed at Plaza Towers Elementary.

FEMA provides this definition of a safe room on its Web site, along with a Q. and A. about them.

Safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria and provide “near-absolute protection” in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. Near-absolute protection means that, based on our current knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a safe room built in accordance with FEMA guidance will have a very high probability of being protected from injury or death.

2:07 P.M. National Weather Service Official Describes Rare Event

A National Weather Service official said the tornado cut a path about 17 miles long with winds up to 190 miles an hour. Numerous structures in its path were wiped clean to the foundations.

The tornado began at about 2:56 p.m. Central time on Monday.

By 3:01 p.m., the National Weather Service issued an emergency statement about the storm, which it described as a rare event, an unusual step taken only when there is expected to be significant impact from a storm.

- Christine Hauser

1:38 P.M. Damage Recalls 1999 Tornado in Oklahoma

Monday's devastating tornado was not the first severe weather event to wreak havoc in the area around Moore, Okla. In May 1999, a severe storm system unleashed violent weather across Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee, including at least 74 tornadoes that cut a path of destruction across Oklahoma.

In a video posted to YouTube in May 2011 by AccuWeather, the meteorologist Mark Mancuso called it “the most prolific tornado outbreak in Oklahoma history.”

A video posted to YouTube by AccuWeather explained the violent tornado that struck Moore in 1999.

The strongest of those storms was a tornado that cut a 38-mile path of destruction across the southern suburbs of Oklahoma City, including the towns of Bridge Creek, Newcastle, Moore, Midwest City and Del City, according to a CNN report. Mr. Mancuso said that the tornado was the last official F5 on record, the highest level on the Fujita tornado damage scale, and packed winds of up to 301 miles per hours. The storm killed 48 people, 36 of them in Oklahoma City, and destroyed as many as 8,000 homes.

The 1999 tornado caused $1.1 billion in damage, according to Mr. Mancuso, and was the costliest tornado in United States history. In an interview with CNN, officials in Oklahoma said they expected Monday's tornado to meet, if not surpass, that record.

Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, told reporters the two tornadoes are “equally devastating.”

“And I think the fact that what we see so far today is going to be very similar if not exceed what we saw in 1999,” he said. “But keep in mind, any time there's a loss of life, it's a devastating disaster.”

Heather Moore survived both the 1999 and Monday's storms.

“It was very, very similar,” Moore told CNN's Piers Morgan. “Cars were turned over, some houses were half gone, some houses were all gone. … All the trees are gone, all the power lines are gone.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, who lives in Moore, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer the damage he was seeing on television Monday looked as bad as the 1999 tornado that destroyed more than 1,000 houses in his hometown.

The Discovery Channel television show “Storm Chasers” dedicated an episode to the 1999 tornado, and a brief video clip on its Web site provides a glimpse of the power of that storm.

1:29 P.M. Oklahoma Governor Gives Update on Tornado
Video from news conference Tuesday with the governor and other officials

Officials at a news conference gave a briefing on the relief efforts in the aftermath of the tornado in Moore, Okla.

“The path of the storm is 20 miles long and estimated two miles in width,” said Gov. Mary Fallin, who described the tornado as one of the state's most horrific disasters. She said the state would rebuild, making sure it uncovered “every piece of debris.”

Ms. Fallin took an aerial tour of the damage. “Homes were absolutely destroyed,” she said. “There are just sticks and bricks.”

There are no firm numbers yet on how many people died, but 237 have been reported injured so far. Some bodies may have been taken to local funeral homes.

- Christine Hauser

12:37 P.M. Live Video From Oklahoma

KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City is streaming live coverage online in the aftermath of the deadly tornado that struck Monday afternoon in Moore, Okla.

12:12 P.M. How the Tornado Looked From Space

This image, taken from space at 2:55 p.m. Central time on Monday, shows the storm developing directly over central Oklahoma. A minute after this image was recorded, the tornado touched down.

A satellite image of the tornado one minute before it touched down in Oklahoma.NOAA A satellite image of the tornado one minute before it touched down in Oklahoma.

- Christine Hauser

12:02 P.M. Devastation After the Tornado
A look at the tornado damage at the Moore Medical Center in Oklahoma.
11:16 A.M. Teachers Describe Efforts to Protect Students in Storm
Video from ABC News of two teachers from Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City describing the terrifying moments after the tornado struck.

In an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News, two first-grade teachers from Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City described the steps they took to protect their students as the tornado struck.

“It was not like anything I had ever experienced, to have those children in my care and to do what is best for them,” Sherri Bittle told Ms. Roberts.

Ms. Bittle said her students were getting ready to attend their last class of the day, art and music, and had already prepared their backpacks. She quickly saw the backpacks as a tool to help keep the children safe.

“I had them take their backpacks and put them over their little heads as they were down in the center of our building,” she said.

On the other side of the building, Cindy Lowe, another first-grade teacher, said she looked outside and saw the tornado headed their way. “I saw how serious it was,” she said.

Ms. Lowe said she tried to keep the children calm as she reminded them of the steps they practiced during tornado drills. “This is not a drill,” she told them as she lay her body on top of as many children as she could.

In an interview with The Oklahoman, a second-grade teacher, Annette Brown, recalled huddling with her students in the restroom and the hallways of Briarwood Elementary before the ceiling collapsed and pinned them to the ground.

Metal beams and cinder blocks crushed her. She held the hand of her son - a student at the school - the whole time, despite losing feeling in her arms. She said her thoughts were on the children and keeping them calm.

“I thought we were going to die,” Brown said.

She said the children were “surprisingly calm.” First responders pulled them from the rubble.

“I'm just thankful that we made it,” she said. “We had guardian angels for sure. There's no way we could've made it without guardian angels.”

All of the students at Briarwood Elementary have been accounted for, but search crews remained at another school, Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, where some students and teachers had been rescued. Others are still missing.

11:33 A.M. How to Help Victims of the Tornado

Aid for the tornado victims poured in on Tuesday as emergency crews continued to search for survivors. Several disaster relief organizations were holding donation drives, and news organizations provided information on Twitter about how to donate to relief efforts. Volunteers also showed up in person, flooding the offices of the local Red Cross.

Donations can also be made through the Red Cross Web site. OperationUSA and Feeding America are also accepting donations.

- Christine Hauser

10:36 A.M. Obama Pledges Support for Tornado Victims

Speaking at the White House after being briefed by federal emergency officials, President Obama pledged support for the victims of the tornado. “In an instant, neighborhoods were destroyed, dozens of people lost their lives, many more were injured and among the victims were young children trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew: their school,” he said.

He expressed gratitude to teachers, neighbors and emergency personnel, as well as those who searched through the night for survivors. While making clear that urgent rescue work would be followed by the work of recovery and rebuilding, the president said the people who were affected would have all the resources they need and issued a disaster declaration.

FEMA staff have been deployed to the scene, and teams have joined in the effort to help, including one from Joplin, Mo., which was devastated by a tornado in 2011. The University of Oklahoma is providing housing for displaced families. The people of Moore, Mr. Obama said, should know their country will stand alongside them “for as long as it takes.”

He said that officials did not yet know the full extent of economic losses, but that empty spaces that used to be bedrooms or living areas needed to be refilled with “love and laughter and community.”

“We are a nation that stands with our fellow citizens,” the president said.

- Christine Hauser

9:10 A.M. More Severe Weather Expected in Oklahoma

As crews continued to sift through rubble and twisted metal, KOCO-TV's meteorologist, Brad Sowder, warned that Oklahoma could face more severe weather today. He said that thunderstorms were likely in Moore and that more severe weather could be expected south of Oklahoma City.

Mr. Sowder's report.

The National Weather Service issued a warning about the potential for tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds later today and tonight in the following areas:



8:55 A.M. Video of the Tornado as It Tore Through Moore
Video of the tornado.
8:51 A.M. President Obama Is Expected to Speak at Noon

President Obama declared Oklahoma a major disaster in the aftermath of the tornado.

He is scheduled to make a statement at noon.

8:38 A.M. Video From the Search at Plaza Towers Elementary School

As dawn broke over a storm-ravaged Moore, Okla., rescue workers continued to sift through the rubble at two schools and in entire neighborhoods leveled by a tornado with winds estimated at roughly 200 miles per hour. At the Plaza Towers Elementary School, as our colleagues report, rescue crews were able to pull several children from the rubble late Monday, but concerns grew overnight that no more victims would be found alive.

On the scene, reporters from KOCO-TV in Oklahoma talked to rescue workers as they were told the effort was moving from rescue to recovery operations.

An overnight report from KOCO-TV at Plaza Towers Elementary School.